The Moisie was my coming-of-age trip, some 25 years ago. It was my first major canoe expedition.
It came early in my paddling learning curve, before I was aware of such things as spray decks. And in the first days, it included a near-death capsize of our companion boat during an open-water crossing. To say it was a reality check is like saying that having children changes your life a tad.
That said, I can’t think of a more worthy piece of water to come of age on. Big-volume, black with tannins, full of boisterous rapids and falls, and flowing through Yosemite-scale canyon scenery, it makes for a classic and challenging two weeks in the boreal wilds of eastern Quebec. (You can paddle it faster, but why?)
Route: Headwater lakes to Sept-Iles
Distance: 310 miles
Time: 14 days
The Moisie flows off the Laurentian Shield at the edge of tundra near the Labrador border, through a series of lakes, and then drops in a cascading series of pushy rapids and falls through bedrock. When I went, we parked the car near the river’s mouth at Sept-Iles, Quebec, then rode the passenger/freight train north toward Schefferville. We arranged a dropoff at one of the headwater lakes, then paddled several flatwater days to the river.
Go fully prepared to portage, to deal with clouds of blackflies, and to face plenty of whitewater challenge. Also, to be entranced by northern wilderness with tremendous heart and vigor. The Moisie is everything a northern river expedition should be, full of reward and challenge. But don’t be surprised if you grow up a little in the bargain.
The classic source of information on the Moisie is The Complete Wilderness Paddler, by James Davidson and John Rugge (Knopf).